Sunday, July 8, 2012

Savvy Student Shopping

From artisan products made of leather, metal, textiles and paper, to big retail goods, Florence makes a unique shopping capital. Getting to know the local shopkeepers and understanding the authenticity of products they sell will make anyone a happy shopper.

Florence specializes in leather. Passionate craftsmen are excited to show you what they have created with their hands. Of course the best time to shop is when studying abroad. Take advantage of your student status and receive heavy discounts. Merchants love students. (You can receive anywhere from 5 to 100s of Euros off leather.)

Hidden in the heart of Florence where few tourists roam, you can find metal workers turning out artistic beauty for reasonable prices. Some of the shops are exclusive, though, so you may need to make an appointment.

I visited a small metal shop with the Baylor in Florence study abroad program. Our local guide knows the owner and gave us a unique experience. Shiny objects and bulky machines filled his basement workshop, where he demonstrated the process of copying an intricate print onto square pieces of metal.
The master of the shop creates pieces for Christian Dior, Neman Marcus and other famous clients.

The products for sale were reasonably priced, and a seashell-shaped salt and pepper shaker made for Dior was even available. Drawers and shelves filled with compacts, flasks, pins, jewelry, picture frames and pillboxes were all for sale.

Another unique find in Florence is Lisa Corti Home Textile Emporium located just 10 minutes away from Florence University of the Arts. This gem is packed with bright middle-eastern tones splashed on bedspreads, bolster pillows, table clothes, napkins and placemats.

It’s a little pricey, but well worth it. The products are made using ancient techniques and are unique in every respect. Lisa Corti has six locations, including three others across Italy. This store cannot be found in the U.S.

Globally, making paper products is a dying art. In Florence, it is still well alive. Homegrown stationary can be found in shops on almost every other street.

One of the more popular Florentine paper stores is Papira. On Ponte Vecchio, they demonstrate the process of painting paper with striking colorful swirls.

Clothes and shoes also run rampant across town. While artisan shops consume the local venues, commercialism doesn’t escape Florence. You can find fun European chains like Zara and H&M, high-end designer stores such as Louis Vuitton and nice specialty shops. These mall-type stores can be found in the heart of the historical district, where the Duomo is located.
Gold and other precious gems are valued over the Arno River. Local merchants protect Ponte Vecchio, so you can be assured that everything is authentic. The bridge is a historical must-see, but a fair warning: the prices are high. For students, window-shopping is the best way to experience this bridge.

One other piece of advice: don’t buy illegal or fake merchandise. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you can be an easy target if you haven’t been to Florence before.

As a general rule, the open markets sell fake goods. Leather, hats and scarves are best bought in a shop and not on the street.

Avoid the men with Chanel and Vuittons strapped around their shoulders. It is illegal to buy from them.

Blankets that line the pavement are a bad sign, too. Thin cloth sheets spread in the streets with sunglasses or jewelry lined up in rows are stolen. Italian law prohibits buying or selling these goods.

The combination of artisan craft and hip commercial stores creates a unique shopping experience for buyers. While in Florence, shop. Nowhere else can you find the same set of products. Students should grab the good deals and buy the souvenirs that will create memories for a lifetime. You only study abroad in Florence once.

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